Tuesday, January 04, 2011

"Cynical Girl" / 
Marshall Crenshaw

2011 is starting out very well, thank you, with a full house of great music gigs lined up over the next few weeks.  You'll just have to wait to find out what they are. (How's that for creating suspense?)  Number one, though, comes up this Friday:  Marshall Crenshaw and Willie Nile, appearing together (what a double bill!) at a Unitarian church out in Montclair, New Jersey, courtesy of a series called Outpost in the Burbs.  Gotta love that name! Any of you who live close enough to get there, here's the link to the venue -- it looks as if they've still got tickets.

It's true, I'm dreadfully spoiled when it comes to Marshall Crenshaw.  He lives in the tri-state area and plays relatively often around here, usually at human-scaled venues that charge reasonable ticket prices and don't sell out two seconds after the tickets go on line. (Spoiled, I tell you!)  Personally I believe that Marshall is so good, he should be filling Madison Square Garden -- there's just no justice in this world.   But until that happens, I'll enjoy the more accessible Crenshaw.

This track is probably my favorite song from MC's self-titled debut album -- though that's a tough call, since it's one of my favorite albums of all time.  Still, the first time I heard this song back in 1982, it was this song that really spoke to me -- for reasons that are embarrassingly obvious. 

On that debut, we were utterly charmed by Crenshaw's bright, upbeat brand of retro pop, which owed as much to the Everlys and Buddy Holly as it did to the Beatles. But unlike a lot of his power pop counterparts, Marshall never acted like a sap, never got saccharine. There's always an edgy context to his love songs, some little frisson of doubt or discontent roiling the waters.  In the years since, that streak of realism has only become richer, more complex -- I can tell you, this is an artist who wears extremely well.  It's a trip to revisit the early stuff and see that that wry touch was always there.

Of course, there's that wonderful jangly guitar, the handclap beat -- so classic.  And yes, it's a classic teen topic, the young guy cruising around town, searching for his soul mate. But he's subverting that rock-and-roll model with a touch of New Wave nerviness (remember what else we were listening to in 1982). Like any guy, he's got his specifications -- but in this case, he insists that "she's got no use for the real world," "she harbors no illusions, she is worldly wise." A postmodern gal indeed.

And, the line that always hooked me:  "Well, I hate TV / There's gotta be somebody other than me / Who's ready to write it off immediately."  Okay, so I actually like TV -- still I could relate to that line. (Always reminded me of the Talking Heads song, "Found a Job," where disgruntled Bob and Judy end up writing their own television shows.) 

He wants a girl with a critical streak a mile wide, and that, my friends, was me.  Is me.  For this particular fangirl -- always a pushover for a rock singer wearing glasses -- it was wonderful to hear that some guys actually prefer cynical girls.

Mind you, it is subtly shaded -- this girl isn't depressive, no "Ruby Tuesday" or "Girl"; she's still perfectly capable of having fun, buzzing around town.  This entire album has such a downtown feel to me, as if the notes were bouncing off of pavements and tall buildings, and I swear, this same girl reappears on track after track. She's also his playmate in "The Usual Thing" ("Don't wanna know about the usual thing / And if I didn't think you were a little bit out there too / I just wouldn't bother with you") and the spirited heroine of "She Can't Dance" ("she can't dance, she can't sing, but she's got to be part of that pop music thing"). It all hangs together.

I was thrilled to find this video on YouTube -- someone with a brain had fun making it.  (Ain't YouTube great sometimes?) To me it perfectly catches the snappy spirit of this song.  Enjoy!


Anonymous said...

What a great video--now I am ready to jump into more of Marshall Crenshaw's music. Surprisingly, not all that familiar with it...yet. This video is a great introduction. Thanks Ted Shepard

Bill said...

Any video that includes Margaret Dumont, Dyan Cannon and Glenda Jackson is all right by me. Just discovered your blog, Holly, and I have to say, your the older sister I've always wished I had. Thanks for shining the light on Lowe, Crenshaw, Davies and all the sometimes overlooked geniuses of pop.